Skip to main content

California's green chemistry law goes into effect

<p>Instead of trying to determine how toxic specific chemicals are, the law asks why they are necessary at all.</p>

Starting Oct. 1, California's Safer Consumer Products law (also called the Green Chemistry Initiative) goes into effect, with the goal of making hundreds of commonplace consumer items safer -- from shampoos and cosmetics to cleaning supplies and food packaging.

Using the muscle of the biggest consumer market in the U.S., California wants to reduce toxic chemicals in consumer products, create new business opportunities in green chemistry and reduce the burden on individuals and businesses in having to struggle to identify what's in the products they buy for their families and customers.

The law represents a sea change in how products are made safer. Instead of trying to determine how toxic specific chemicals are, it asks why they are necessary at all.

Instead of banning specific chemicals from particular products, such as bisphenol A in baby bottles, they are looking at classes of products.

The Department of Toxic Substances Control has prepared a list of about 1,200 toxic chemicals by aggregating authoritative sources. The next step is to develop a list of about 200 products that contain chemicals of greatest concern -- that pose the most danger to health and/or the environment.

By April, they will select up to five "priority products" for manufacturers to reformulate into safer products using green chemistry.  

If manufacturers wish to sell those products in California, they must perform a detailed analysis that either justifies their current formulation or results in a safer alternative. The impact will be widespread -- across global supply chains of manufacturers. The lifecycle evaluation will be based not only on risk during product use, but also during manufacture and disposal.

Priority products will be determined based on factors such as how widely a product is used, the extent of public exposure and how the product eventually is disposed.  

The first priority products under consideration are: nail polish (toluene interferes with reproduction); carpet adhesive with formaldehyde (a carcinogen) and mercury in fluorescent light bulbs, Debbie Raphael, director of the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, told the Los Angeles Times.

Stakeholders will be able to provide input through the typical regulatory process, which requires a hearing before making final decisions.

The rules are "practical, meaningful and legally defensible" against potential industry lawsuits, Raphael told the Los Angeles Times. The program will grow slowly and carefully and expand over time as kinks are worked out, she says.

States long have led on banning toxic chemicals -- 18 states have passed some 80 laws over the past decade.

Congress has yet to pass legislation that would overhaul the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The Safe Chemicals Act was introduced for the third time this year -- it would curtail chemicals used in everyday products with known links to cancer, learning disabilities, infertility and more, while creating incentives for new, safer chemicals.

The shift to green chemicals also would be a job creator in an industry that's been shedding hundreds of thousands of jobs.

This year, more than 160 countries agreed to phase out brominated flame retardants at the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants -- except for the U.S. and a few other countries that don't participate. Flame retardants are in a vast range of products including infant and toddler products, and upholstery, bedding, electronics and insulation. The U.S. did, however, pass legislation on formaldehyde.

This article originally appeared at Sustainable Business News.

Green beaker image by pedrosala via Shutterstock.

More on this topic